Suppressing viscous fingering in structured porous media
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115 (19): 4833-4838 (2018-05-08)
Finger-like protrusions that form along fluid−fluid displacement fronts in porous media are often excited by hydrodynamic instability when low-viscosity fluids displace high-viscosity resident fluids. Such interfacial instabilities are undesirable in many natural and engineered displacement processes. We report a phenomenon whereby gradual and monotonic variation of pore sizes along the front path suppresses viscous fingering during immiscible displacement, that seemingly contradicts conventional expectation of enhanced instability with pore size variability. Experiments and pore-scale numerical simulations were combined with an analytical model for the characteristics of displacement front morphology as a function of the pore size gradient. Our results suggest that the gradual reduction of pore sizes act to restrain viscous fingering for a predictable range of flow conditions (as anticipated by gradient percolation theory). The study provides insights into ways for suppressing unwanted interfacial instabilities in porous media, and provides design principles for new engineered porous media such as exchange columns, fabric, paper, and membranes with respect to their desired immiscible displacement behavior.
Direct numerical simulation
Structured porous media
Suppressed viscous fingering